A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for December 2014

Is Portland a threat to sign Kevin Durant in 2016?

with one comment

9 years after passing on him for Greg Oden and after a history of bad breaks since their 1977 title, it would be a great story if Kevin Durant signed with the Portland Trailblazers in 2016.

Portland has been rarely listed as a possibility for Durant’s free agency. Portland isn’t known as as a big enough market to be a free agent destination. His hometown Washington has become a popular Durant free agency talking point. There’s also the likelihood Portland will have Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge on max contracts and Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez both making over 10 million a year by 2016. This makes them a less obvious fit capspace wise even though Nicolas Batum’s contract expires that summer.

Here’s my retort to each of those problems:

Portland as a free agency destination

Portland’s lack of free agent history doesn’t bother me because from an outside perspective it appears Durant doesn’t care about the size of his market. Durant is already swimming in endorsement deals and fame playing in Oklahoma City. We just saw Kevin Love spurn the Lakers but embrace playing in Cleveland because he wanted to win. I’m guessing the competitive Durant has the same mentality: It’s all about winning. If he leaves Oklahoma City after 9 seasons my money is on it’ll be because he has more faith winning championships and enchancing his legacy elsewhere.

Washington: A red herring?

I’m strongly against the odds of Durant leaving the Thunder for Washington for this reason. Does Washington provide a better opportunity to win than Oklahoma City? Washington has a star PG and competent defensive big men but so do the Thunder. Washington’s coaching and management in Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld do not have a more trustworthy history than Scott Brooks and Sam Presti. Durant’s sentimental attachment to his hometown may still pale to the sentimental attachment to staying with the team that drafted him. Washington would need Bradley Beal to become more of a 3rd star than Serge Ibaka to really sell Durant that Washington is a “talent upgrade” in my opinion, but Beal’s 3rd season has been barely more productive than Jeremy Lamb’s. Some argue the move from the West to the East in competition could help sell Durant on switching. But the main difference between the West and the East is likely to come in the first 2 rounds which Oklahoma City hasn’t struggled with anyways by making the conference Finals the last three years Russell Westbrook was healthy. In the conference finals and Finals you play 1 West team and 1 East team to win the title no matter which side you are on so I don’t buy conferences are a major swinging factor by that point. Furthermore with teams like Cleveland and Chicago in the East and up and coming teams like Toronto who could be dangerous by 2016-2017, making the Finals in the East would not be a cakewalk.

What I like about Portland’s case is they conceivable *could* provide that elusive talent upgrade. Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge are two other true perennial all-stars compared to one in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook. If they can keep Wesley Matthews this also gives them an excellent starting shooting guard who fits perfectly on a team with other stars. A case can be made Matthews is as valuable at SG as Serge Ibaka is for a PF. Terry Stotts is also a coach of the year contender and appears to be ahead of the ball more than Scott Brooks in terms of offensive creativity. A team headlined by Lillard, Matthews, Durant and Aldridge with Stotts coaching could conceivably be enough of an upgrade over Oklahoma City to draw Durant’s attention.

Salary cap problems

Now a big retort to Portland is how getting Durant would work under the cap. While Portland currently has all but nothing signed after 2016 it’s a no brainer Aldridge and Lillard will have max deals by then. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are unrestricted free agents this summer and should easily clear over 20 million a year combined if they both resign. Portland is contending now and most likely won’t let either go for a longshot chance at Durant.

Their saving grace is the upcoming TV deal where capspace is expected to rocket in 2016. This doesn’t mean Portland will have enough capspace to have all of Lillard, Aldridge, Matthews, Lopez on the books and still sign Durant. But consider what will happen in the rest of the league in 2016. There will be a massive oversupply of capspace compared to quality free agents available. Even in a non-TV deal year teams who expected to hit it big in free agency strike out and are forced to overpay whichever free agent is left. In 2016 the prices for the available free agents could be a ridiculous bidding war.

What this also means is sharp teams could end up seeing a more appealing alternative: Using capspace to trade for players with expensive contracts. This allows them to take on contracts that were signed in the pre-TV deal era and many of these contracts would only have an affordable 2-3 years left.

Because salaries will be so liquid a case can be made Kevin Durant could sign on virtually any team in the league. For example say Durant wanted to sign with the L.A. Clippers but they are blocked by a new Deandre Jordan contract at over 12 million a year, plus Spencer Hawes and JJ Redick’s mid-level deals. The Clippers in this situation may find it very easy to dump Jordan, Hawes and Redick to teams who have tens of millions in capspace but are garnering no free agent interest. Just as Houston this summer managed to move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s contracts relatively easily to make room for Chris Bosh if he had chosen to sign there. I suspect that only the worst NBA contracts will be unmovable in 2016 considering the amount of excess capspace that teams will have. Even for the ones just over the line of untradeable, throwing in a 1st round pick could help grease the wheels to move a contract.

I suspect in 2016 Portland could simply move however many non-Lillard or Aldridge contracts they need to make space for Durant, such as trading Robin Lopez or an MLE signing made in the summer 2015 to bolster their depth to a team with capspace. I haven’t checked the math close enough to see if keeping Wes Matthews along with Lillard and Aldridge and signing Durant at the same time is possible but if push comes to shove, moving Matthews to make room for Durant is still a no-brainer. All in all for teams like the Blazers, Clippers and Rockets I don’t see the salary cap getting in the way of signing Kevin Durant. The real race for Durant is to see who can offer him the best chance of winning a championship after 2016 if he doesn’t have one by then. If he feels Oklahoma City’s chance from 2016 on is as good as anyone else’s I doubt he leaves. If Portland’s supporting looks more dynamic by then, I would treat them as a big a threat as anyone.

Written by jr.

December 27, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Yes, Klay Thompson has been one of the most valuable players in the league

leave a comment »

Klay Thompson and the Warriors front office has been making a lot of bloggers like me look bad. At the time giving up a good shooting guard for a superstar power forward felt like a no brainer.

It’s only been a month and a half but Klay Thompson’s play so far has vindicated the Warriors. Klay is both putting up all-star box score statistics and has dominant +/- statistics.

Just how valuable this version of Klay is if he keeps it up may actually be understated. Because Klay provides a high amount of non-boxscore value.

Half of what makes the Warriors so good isn’t captured in raw statistics. Andrew Bogut’s value on defense goes beyond his 2.2 blocks a game. His positional spacing on help defense will affect plays without him leaving the ground. In addition Warriors fans claim he is a player who’s offensive value goes far beyond his usually pedestrian scoring numbers in areas like picks and directing the floor. In addition to passing which has showed up in a solid 3 assists a game this year. As a Raptors fan I have seen Amir Johnson’s real value playing positional defense and rolling to the rim in always the right place go under appreciated the years. I believe Amir Johnson has one of the 5 best Raptors careers of all time by never averaging more than 10.4 points or 7.5 rebounds a game for the team. It appears Bogut’s value is the Warriors version of this but even better.

Likewise Draymond Green is now an above average player statistically but boxscore stats will miss on his real value. Draymond is arguably one of the best defensive players at the 4 despite averaging an average 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Furthermore he also spaces the floor as a 36.7% 3pt shooter on 4.9 attempts a game. The league is increasingly prioritizing players who either space the floor or defend. Draymond does both in addition to a now solid scoring game.

This is in addition to Andre Iguodala who’s defensive impact hasn’t been captured by box score stats for years. In addition to fitting intelligently offensively.

Now we get to Klay Thompson. On one hand Klay Thompson also holds ‘non-boxscore’ value like the above. As the best shooter at his position his floor spacing will make offenses better. He is also an above average defender for the position. If you could quantify “spacing+defense” Klay has a case to lead the Warriors. Although I feel Bogut is the most important defender he doesn’t provide floor spacing. Players like Green and Thompson have a more balanced combination of spacing and defense as one of the best shooters at their respective positions. Whether Thompson’s league leading shooting at SG provides more spacing the rarity of a 3pt shooting PF like Green is up for debate.

But thus what makes Thompson’s value scary is he does this while looking like an all-star in the box-score too. Thompson is scoring 21.2 points per game in 33.1 minutes per game which is 23 points per 36 minutes. The efficiency is there unlike previous seasons with a .579 TS% and a well above average 112 ORTG. Klay’s rebounding and assists are up with 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He has a 20.4 PER and his 2.6 Win Shares so far ranks 15th in the league. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green provide star spacing or defense value while only putting up average statistics. Klay Thompson does it while also adding all-star statistics.

Consider the case of Lamarcus Aldridge who’s value I have often found to be one of the most fascinating in the league. Aldridge is scoring 22.8 points per game at .518 TS% after 23.2 points on .507 TS% last season. His shot selection relies heavily on inefficient long 2 point jump shots hence the below average TS%. In a normal case this would be the sign of an overrated scorer compared to efficient 3pt shooters or scorers at the rim. However Portland is an intelligent analytics team who has been able to build back to back top 5 offenses around Aldridge. The key is spacing. Portland sacrifices Aldridge’s efficiency to make his teammates more efficient. His midrange shooting spaces the the floor when players drive to score in the paint. His skills in the post demands double teams that allows Portland to pass the ball to open 3pt teammates. Portland uses the 2011 Dallas Mavericks model which used Dirk Nowitzki’s floor spacing and ability to draw doubles to masterfully open up space for teammates. In addition to this Aldridge appears to use his physical tools and intelligence to be an above average defensive player for his position. Compare this to Al Jefferson who has similar scoring statistics to Lamarcus Aldridge. Jefferson however does not provide spacing value when he fills space in the post or steps out for midrange shots teams leave him open to take. Defensively he is a negative contributor. Aldridge’s “spacing+defense” combination is positive and Jefferson’s is negative. Jefferson is the less valuable player for reasons box score stats miss.

I thought Paul George might have been the 3rd most valuable player last regular season for the same reason. By the end of the year his scoring stats were a good not great 21.7 points per game on .555 TS%. George added 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals per game. He wasn’t the 3rd best statistical player in the league with standouts like Steph Curry, James Harden and Blake Griffin. But at SF George provided arguably defensive player of the year caliber impact in addition to spacing the floor by hitting 36.4% from 3 on 6.3 attempts a game. By spacing the floor and playing defense he already made a huge difference to the Pacers. When adding the tangible value of scoring near 22 points a game at above average efficiency it makes his impact last year superstar caliber in my opinion.

The reason I bring this all up is Klay Thompson is putting up better offensive statistic than Lamarcus Aldridge and Paul George did last year because of efficiency. He does it while showing up in the spacing and defense comparable to players like Aldridge, Bogut, Green or George. That’s why Klay may be one of the 10 or 15 most valuable players in the league this year.

Written by jr.

December 9, 2014 at 2:53 pm